Back to Life, Back to Reality

After 348 nights of living out of a backpack, we’ve finally made it home.

The first week has been an absolute whirlwind of seeing long lost family and friends; a frenzied and relentless need to keep unpacking; the panic buying of school uniform and shoes; working 2 days in a brand new job; studying 5 days in a brand new class at school; doing about 67 loads of washing; dedicating an entire room in our house just to our unopened post; making scores of phone calls to reconnect various utilities and services; and finding a new appreciation for very simple things, like soft pillows and tap water you can drink.

What has really made it special though is the kindness of friends and family who have helped us. We’ve had a birthday cake EACH for the children (thank you Nana Avril); there were brownies, cakes, biscuits, tea, coffee & milk on the doorstep (thank you Sam); a lift from the bus station and a home-made lasagna (thank you Kate); a car full – FULL – of redirected, unopened post that my parents have stored for us, including a rather large number of parcels that we posted home to ourselves (thank you Mum and Dad); and a trip to toy shop for belated birthday presents (thank you Uncle Kieran); not to mention the countless people who have stopped us and told us how happy they are to see us back. It is very moving to have people around who show you that they care about you. We feel very lucky.

So how does it feel to be back? Somehow, it manages to feel both utterly bizarre and completely familiar at the same time. It’s so quiet, so well organised and so clean. The cars move in straight, orderly lines along the roads, like they’re on tracks or controlled by robots or computers. There’s no chaos, no crowds of people or shouting in the streets. Where is everyone?

The colours are different. Muted, like if you turn down the colour on the TV to almost black and white, yet beautiful all the same. Walking out from our home you can see fields and hills, cows grazing and birds in the trees. It’s really nice round here. I don’t think I’d noticed that for a while.

And our house: it’s enormous! I keep walking from room to room, wondering at the luxury of having a choice, of having personal space again.

I know I’m going to miss some things about being on the road. After we dropped the girls off for their first day back at school, I thought I’d gone deaf. I could count the number of hours I’ve been without them during the last year on my fingers. I think we’re all finding that a bit hard. Plus, after all that time away spent craving English food, I’m already craving Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) for breakfast. Ah, that greener grass is calling again!

We have another milestone to come this week. Ferg will turn 40 on Thursday, marking the official start of the slippery slope into middle age. Some birthdays just seem to mean more than others; and coming at the end of this trip I guess it’s made me think about how little time we actually have to call our own. It seems unlikely we’ll ever get another year like this one. And our children will never be 8 years old again.

But right now the overwhelming feeling is one of being incredibly lucky to have seen the things we’ve seen, been the places we’ve been, and have all amazing luxuries and friendships we have to come home to. And one thing is for sure: it’s better to have gone and come back than to never have gone at all.

Five Funny Things That Happened Whilst Travelling

By Evie Hadley (Age 9)

BIG Fishing!

One funny thing that happened whilst travelling was when, in Sri Lanka, out of the bus window, we saw some Asian people sitting on bamboo (very thin) poles fishing in the sea wihout even holding on! Mummy explained that to us that they were stilt-fishing and that these people were very practiced at balancing and fishing at the same time. Clever and funny.

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No stilt fishing captured on camera, but a lovely beach shot where you sometimes see the fishermen

Monster Ahoy!

Well, the story starts when we are swimming in the sea at Komodo National Park, Indonesia. Diving down to look at coral, playing with Christmas tree worms and chasing fish. Then suddenly Mummy came up screaming that she had seen a hideous monster with a human sized head, shiny, colourful skin, two slit-like eyes and no nose. A couple of days later we were watching a marine wildlife program and we found that Mummy had seen an octopus. Poor Mummy!

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Mummy, blissfully unaware that she’s about to experience utter terror

Faking An Elephant!

This story starts when we were sitting in Chitwan on the verandah outside our large, cosy room.

We were chatting (about Tettie’s broken leg) when we all heard a strange, trumpeting sound and look around. Assuming it was an elephant (probably the one who lived in our resort) and carried on chatting. Then the noise came again and (once again) looked round to see a western man walking along blowing his nose. He sounded so much like an elephant!

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The resident elephant at Travellers Jungle Camp

Just Keep Plodding

We were trekking in the mountains of Nepal walking, walking, walking, “GET OUT OF THE WAY OF THE YAKS!” Jingle, jingle, jingle, yaks coming through! The yaks were clomping along on the thin mountain ledges where they probably wouldn’t fall off due to their stale, gripping hooves (although they were being whipped quite hard on the bum!)

The yaks were followed by donkeys (also being whipped on the bum). Did you know that yaks get low altitude sickness?!

Yak (or maybe a Nak)

Yaks Ahoy!

Crocodile v’s Elephant

Yes, Mummy let us swim in the elephant and crocodile infested river in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. (We had to wear life jackets though). There were two types of crocodile. Most were gharials, which only eat fish; others were marshmuggers which eat people and fish but are scared of elephants. We had a game called silent gliders where we glided silently along in the water (pretending not to be able to see each other). FUN!

The Crocodile Game

A game of silent gliders during our first trip to Chitwan

Leaving on a Jet Plane

All packed up and ready to go.

All packed up and ready to go.

So here it is. Our last day of travelling. Our last day of squashing up into a single hotel room. Our last day of eating every meal in public. Our last day of spending every waking moment in each other’s company.

Early tomorrow morning, we get a tuk-tuk or taxi to the airport and spend pretty much the whole day on planes (with an exciting 4 hour stopover in Oman to relieve the monotony), eventually piling out at Heathrow after 16 hours of travel. Then it’s just one more bus journey up to Leeds (a mere 4 hours and with a guaranteed seat each instead of plastic chairs in the aisle – luxury!) and we’ll be home.

We’re cutting it fine. School starts just four days after we get home. We have no food in the cupboards. We have no bedding. We threw out our old sofas before we left so there’s nothing except kitchen chairs to sit on. And what things we do have are all boxed and stacked ten-feet high in the garage. It’s going to be a busy few days.

But I think it will also be exciting, rediscovering all our possessions and seeing why they all seemed so important that we had to carefully store them away all year. To be honest, I imagine quite a lot of it might be going straight to the tip rather than back into our house. When we’ve lived out of two backpacks (plus the girls’ small ones) for a year, it’s hard to imagine needing a ten-foot garage stack of stuff.

Actually, when I wrote that we have no food, it wasn’t strictly true. We all sat around our laptop by the pool yesterday, salivating as we put together the most enormous online Asda delivery ever. Some of it is essentials. Some of it. But mostly it’s just cheese. The sheer amount of choice was just too much to resist, and it was just so incredibly easy. A few hundred clicks and before you know it, Asda’s shelves are empty and our fridge and cupboards are full. Wow! No need to haggle with tuk-tuk drivers to get there, dodge stray dogs on the street, jump over open sewers, struggle with indecipherable labels or mysterious vegetables nor any need to visit twenty shops to get twenty things. We’ve also bought all the girls school uniforms online, winter coats, recorders (!), a case of wine… come to think of it, maybe we have missed having stuff after all.

But possessions aside, I think our girls will be in for a culture shock when we return to the UK. Their memories of home are already fading and I really think the little differences will be a surprise to them: wearing coats or tights or shoes, everyone understanding them when they talk in public, not having to put on sun cream or mosquito repellant, having to spend time away from their Mummy and Daddy, sitting still in a classroom…

Backpacking as a family has sometimes been hard work and we’ve all felt growing pangs of homesickness over the last month or two but we’ve seen some amazing stuff, been to some awesome places, learnt things about different countries you could never pick up without going there, had a ton of fun and are closer as a family than we’ve ever been. I’m glad we spent all those years saving up but I’m also looking forward to getting back to “normal” life. Things that had started to feel mundane will be exciting. Choosing to go back to the familiar is a very different thing to being swept along by the daily grind.

And I also think the trip will anchor us. In time – such a big life change will always give us the perspective to say whether any event happened before or after we went travelling – but also in reality: it’s humbling to see with your own eyes how most of the World’s population lives. It’s a lot harder to complain about your life or feel stressed over small upsets when you’ve seen what others often have to deal with.

But going home is not until tomorrow. Today we go to the beach for the last time, and tonight we’re having a special meal to toast our trip – to celebrate our year in Asia, were going out to an Italian restaurant. Salute!

Homeward Bound

Tomorrow is our last day of travelling.

This brings mixed feelings: part of me could carry on this lifestyle forever; part of me pines for home comforts. The grass, as they say, is always greener.

No more packing up our troubles in the old kit bag; no more roaming the hot, dusty streets in search of a big family room for a small family budget; no more wild animal adventures; no more 17 hour bus journeys; no more removing fear inducing insects from the bathroom; no more sleeping on top of each other.

No more seeing my girls every single minute of every single hour of every single day. It is a very, very sad thought.

As for the children, they are incredibly enthusiastic about returning home. They can’t wait to taste fresh, creamy milk again, and to see all their ‘dodo bears’ (soft toys). We’ve allowed them to input into our first UK supermarket shopping list, which is going to be delivered to our home just hours after we arrive (what luxury!) so it now contains all the ingredients to make trifle, a number of crisp based snacks and most of the dairy aisle. It also has our favorite Malbec wine, real ale, chedder cheese…all the things we’ve missed eating and drinking. After managing not to gain weight after a year of eating out, we are in danger of ballooning in our first week back!

But ask them if they’ve enjoyed it? “SO much!” is the reply I got last night. I wonder if they can really remember what our old routine was like, or appreciate how much freedom they’ve had this year.

For now though, we are all very excited about going home. For the first few days our house will seem like a mansion, the cold weather will seem refreshing, English food will seem delicious, and it will be amazing to see our friends and family again. We even have a new family member, a baby girl cousin to our girls. I am so excited about meeting her! The challenge is to carry on appreciating these things in the weeks and months to come.

Here’s a quick list (shouted out by all of us, in no particular order) of all the things we are looking forward to:-

Megan

NanaRara

Nana Avril

Rara Rob

Uncle Kieran & Auntie Yeni

Reuben

Our new family member, Wren

Auntie Kate

Mac & Daisy (Auntie Kate’s dogs)

Grandad Alan

English milk

Squirty cream

Trifle

Nachos

Cream

Our big house

Our own TV

Our own kitchen

A bed each

Our garden

School

Bouncing on the trampoline

Slide

Sofas (although we don’t currently own one)

Space, more space and more space

Dodo bears

Our own car

All the days out e.g. Cannon Hall Farm, Golden Acre Park & Hall Park

Going to a shop that has things I might want to buy in it

Drizzle

Snow

Fast internet

Being cosy under a duvet

Oven cooked stew

Cooking our own food

Feeling safe

Smooth roads

Safe transport

Cheese

Dentist

My bike (all of us)!

My ukulele & music

Water from the taps

Buying a recorder

Dairy milk

Mince pies [Ferg]

Board games

Roleplaying games [Ferg]

Decent red wine [the kids – only kidding! This was me.]

The NHS

It’s a pretty comprehensive list… I wonder how much we will really remember to appreciate once we are actually there?

For now, we’ll try to concentrate on enjoying our last 24 hours of hot sandy beaches, warm sea, a swimming pool, a resident monitor lizard in the canal outside, friendly locals, eating unidentified food, and enjoying being together as a family.

The Most Useful Thing We’ve Taken Travelling Around Asia: Waterproof Cast Cover

By Scarlett Hadley (Age 9)

We didn’t exactly take a waterproof cast cover, but…

Well the story really started when we began to climb for the second time in the Anapurna region. After 3 days of trekking it happened.

I broke my leg. Luckily, a helicopter came, soaring into the air with all five members of our family inside, and at last came to rest in Kathmandu, on Vayoda Hospital’s helicopter landing place. When we left Vayodah (me and Mummy in ambulance, Daddy and my sisters in a taxi) my leg had been set into a big full length cast.

Scarlett Onboard the Helicopter

Scarlett being a big, brave girl in the helicopter

The waterproof cast cover was delivered several weeks later in Chitwan National Park, where elephants are the great kings.

After one and a half weeks in Chitwan the cast cover because useful. My sisters were off to wash the elephants, my Nepali friend had to go to a funeral and so me and Mummy had to stay at our hotel, Travellers Jungle Camp. We went to the bathroom ad for the first time put on my waterproof cast cover. Woops, splash, the showers got out of hand! Water – war!

Me and Mummy had a waterfight until my sisters came home and we all played cards. It began when I threw a bucket of water at Mummy, big mistake! She threw one back at me. The bathroom got soaked as water went flying back and forth, having quite an adventure. Splashing back at Mummy all I could see was thousands and thousands of tiny droplets of water soaring to and fro around me. A lot of fun was involved in the weird and wonderful water fight. At last, after 2 and a half hours, both dripping, we left the flooded bathroom to drain, just as my sisters and Daddy came home.

Our Room Name (Rhyming SLang?)

Our room in Chitwan where we stayed a total of 41 nights while Scarlett recovered

Sublime Swimming

On the first day in Thailand we swam in the Hotel Malaysia’s big, deep swimming pool. Me and my sisters played mermaids and used the rubber rings as boats, sailing around and often falling off…

The swimming pool was 3-4 metres deep and very fun. The cold refreshing water had a well tiled floor, which was painted a light shade of turquoise, as were all four walls. My cast cover floated, allowing me to plow easily through the water.

Waterproof Cast Cover in Action

Scarlett in action with the waterproof cast cover

Sandy Samui

After I had my cast changed there was a different tale to tell…

This was swimming from Mummy to Daddy in the wild raging waves of Ko Samui. The water was deep and green but yet my waterpoof cast cover floated above the surface, bobbing gently with the waves. We had a very good time in Ko Samui. I could not get in the sea without help. I could not do this because I only had 3 legs (when I was on all fours).

Scarlett Literally Island Hopping

Broken leg on the beach, Ko Samui

Bad Bubble Maker:  Waterproof Cast Cover is Good.

When we went to do a bubble makers course [an introductory scuba diving course] it was a disaster!

The air tanks were too heavy and the wet suits were too big. I only had one flipper, but the cast cover didn’t sink. It floated along like a good little cast cover and we managed to swim the huge distance (Mummy pulling me half the way). My waterproof cast cover saved me that one big day.

Ready to go diving

Nothing stops Scarlett joining in, not even a broken leg!

Hua Hin

In Hua Hin, I had my cast taken off but my leg was so sensitive it couldn’t touch the water…

Hua Hin was an extremely nice place with an open, public swimming pool right next to our hotel. As my leg couldn’t touch the water I put on my waterproof cast cover. Then we all swam. We played for a very long time until I could take off the cast cover and slowly swim without it. YES! I didn’t have a broken leg!

Scarlett enjoying the freedom of no cast on her leg!

The early days of freedom!

The Five Best Places to Swim in Asia

By Jemima (aged 9)

Sugar Beach

Swimming at Sugar Beach outside Taka Tuka

Swimming at Sugar Beach outside Taka Tuka

Sugar Beach is in the Philippines. It has almost no rocks or sea urchins. Sea urchins are large or small spiky dark or any colour really but mostly black or an occasional black and white urchin. But as I have already said, mostly black. They are fish things and very simple creatures. Besides, even if there was an urchin or an occasional rock, especially if it was under the surface, there is amazingly clear water, though there are no fish.

The water is safe and has no current which makes it even safer. It is not too deep at all but just the right depth. The sand at the bottom of the sea is soft and there are no crabs.

It is a very nice place including the amazing resorts like Taka Tuka Lodge and the food, Lego and dogs at Sulu Sunset. All in all it was worth the journey. Sorry, am I getting carried away with resorts? Anyway, it’s time for Pu Kao Lak now. Here we go…

Pu Kao Lak

There is an infinity edge to the pool and it is a lovely thing.

There is an infinity edge to the pool and it is a lovely thing.

It was lovely swimming in Pu Kao Lak, which is in Thailand. The amazing pool had lots of different parts such as a large main part with the coolest water and a small part that we could make a whirlpool in. The water is cool in all of the places and a relief from the boiling weather of Thailand. There is an infinity edge to the pool and it is a lovely thing.

Also there is a water bar which we once got a drink from and it is lovely. With the water around our feet we sat and drank our lovely drink.

Dolphins sometimes spout water and we played at being mermaids and the dolphins were our showers. It was very fun.

I loved Pu Kao Lak. I absolutely loved it.

Legoland

All aboard a Legoland slide

All aboard a Legoland slide

Legoland Malaysia is amazing fun. There are good surprises such as, well I’m not going to tell you or you won’t find them surprising.

The water park is good and has great water slides and a lot of fun. Also in the water park there was a bucket tipping water. It is not really swimming because the water is too shallow but there is a wave pool you can swim in.

As well as the water park there is the main park which is even better. If you come while the rollercoaster called the Dragon is open then go first on the Dragon’s Apprentice to build up. All the other rides are amazing, too.

Go to Legoland Malaysia if you can.

Erewan Falls

Walking on a submerged log at Erewan Falls

Walking on a submerged log at Erewan Falls

Erewan Falls is in Thailand near Kanchanaburi. It is a good place to play and there are fish that nibble your toes. It is very, very nice there and good for relaxing in the amazing athmosphere.

The water is icy cold so I wouldn’t stay in for too long if I were you. It also feels natural to swim there. I love Erewan Falls.

The rocks were fun but quite sharp as I found out when I just happened to cut myself. I think that I slipped on the rocks because they were rather slippy.

It was absolutely lovely there. I loved it.

Komodo National Park

Jemima free diving near Komodo island

Jemima free diving near Komodo island

Komodo National Park is a good place to swim if you go to the right place. If you don’t get a tour then there are currents that could suck you down to the bottom of the ocean. If you are in the right place, there are amazing fish and coral. It is like another world under the ocean. You don’t even need a diving tank, just snorkeling is enough.

You might see a manta ray or a turtle, sea snake or octopus. Mummy saw an octopus and thought it was an alien because she only saw its head. It was very funny. You could also see komodo dragons on land.

It was amazing.